WHO NAMED THE BAND: Marianas Trench teaches kids about geography

Some bands are born to weird band names. Others have weird band names thrust upon them.

Marianas Trench fits both cases. The Vancouver pop-not-punk group – headlining Monday at Rexall Place – had actually been renamed from its early days as Ramsay Fiction, after singer and founder Josh Ramsay. But while the guy tends to be a bit of a ham on stage, he is reportedly not that way in real life, hence the “Fiction,” in that he’s playing a character on stage that’s not entirely himself. Happens all the time. His rock star ego just wasn’t big enough that he was comfortable being in a band named after himself.

“Marianas Trench” came up amidst a bunch of band names being thrown around at Naming Time, the sacred ritual every band must endure. Drummer Ian Casselman recalls that everyone “kind of” agreed it was the best. “We’re medium on it. We don’t love it or hate it. If we knew how many questions we were going to get about the band name, we wouldn’t have picked it.”

This, too, is one of the fascinating things about rock ‘n’ roll nomenclature: the way musicians deal with being asked about their weird band names. Some make up stories. Others refuse to answer, considering the topic irrelevant. Casselman says he can tell a lot about people by how they react to Marianas Trench.

There are three basic reactions, he says: “A. They didn’t know what it was, or B. knew what it was and thought it was clever, or C. thought it was a female’s, um, crotch area. It was fun for me because I’d realize what type of person I was talking to. It gave more insight into them than to us.”

Once named, branded like a cow, it is impossible to separate the name from the band, so it is hard to tell what effect, if any, the band name has on the band’s music. What would Metallica sound like if it wasn’t called Metallica? See? Ridiculous question.

Marianas Trench – not Mary Ann’s Trench – is the deepest, coldest, darkest spot in the ocean. Does that mean the band is deep, cold and dark? It does not. It works as self-deprecating irony. There is a sunny disposition in the band’s sweet pop melodies and exuberantly polished rock riffs, which bear some faint similarities to Nickelback, whose singer Chad Kroeger signed Marianas Trench to his label 604 Records in 2006. Hey, he signs what he likes.

Marianas Trench quickly dominated mainstream radio over several formats, and backed it up with a strong live show which thoroughly upstaged the headliners when they opened for Simple Plan a while back. The members of Marianas Trench don’t feel good about breaking these “Vegas Rules,” Casselman says, which just makes things awkward, but the guys in Simple Plan were really good about it, he says.

So not cold, either. Maybe a little dark, though. Consider the lyrics in Marianas Trench’s hit Fallout: “While you’re sleeping like a babe beside him, I’m on the ledge … I know you’re fine, but what do I do?”

Dark enough for a pop band. There’s that dreaded “pop-punk” term that creeps into stories about these sort of bands, and while Casselman says they had it in the early days, punk doesn’t really apply anymore. Moreover, Marianas Trench does not sound like the name of a punk band – and did that help shape their musical direction?

“Anything that’s artistic, I really prefer to leave it up the listener,” Casselman says. “People could look at the name like it’s undiscovered, that it’s a really low point, it’s dark, cold and you can’t find anything down there. As far as the band goes, pop lyrics can be pretty fluffy, but we try very hard to craft something that’s clever and has some intelligence, even though it’s a simple pop song.”

Ironically, while Marianas Trench may be sick about questions about its name – articles like this don’t help, obviously – the band actually got an unexpected boost from big-time Hollywood director James Cameron.

“He built a sub and went down to the Marianas Trench – and that helped out a ton,” Casselman says. “Believe or not, it made kids more interested in the band. That changed a lot of things for us, because there was tons of press on TV.”

Who says rock ‘n’ roll can’t reach kids about geography?

At least they didn’t name themselves Mount Everest.